Costco – the great warehouse store where your $120 membership gives you access to the wonders of 5lb jars of peanut butter and 8lb bottles of ketchup. Buying in bulk is cheaper, you get a back 2% of your spending at the end of the year, which usually covers your membership fee, so it is a great deal, right?
Well, not necessarily.
We had a Costco membership for several years, and we used it quite a lot. And yes, ketchup is cheaper per ounce than it is at our regular grocery store, and we did make up our membership fee in cash back at the end of the year. However, our grocery bill went up. “How is that possible if everything is cheaper?” you ask. Many of the things we bought were actually things we were never bought before, so we were not just replacing items we normally buy with cheaper alternatives, we were buying more stuff.
We bought only a few things at Costco that were actually a better deal on our normal purchases –I like their flour and their frozen fruit and vegetables and their toilet paper. The rest of our purchases were mostly snacks and pre-prepared foods and fancy water.
Costco has great snacks — large bags of popcorn, various chips, crackers, and cookies. They also have great soups, guacamole in single-serving containers (perfect for packed lunches), hummus, salsa, and naan. Costco bagels are better than those at most bakeries. And then there are the water and juice options. You will find the best deal on Izzy (our all-time favorite drink) at Costco. If you are going to eat all of those things, Costco is your store. However, all of those things added both to our grocery bill and my ever-expanding waistline. Not to mention the pounds of trash we added to landfills from all of those single-serving packages.
After NoSnack September, we discovered that life is better is you stick to the basic food groups, which for our family means fruits, veggies, and dried goods. Fresh fruit and veggies are not particularly great or particularly cheap at Costco. Our local coop often has the same or cheaper prices for organic produce that Costco has for conventional. I sometimes miss the packages of frozen broccoli we used to get at Costco. They are a great deal but certainly not worth the price of membership and the drive to the store. I pay a dollar more per pound at the coop and save a trip.
Costco does have good prices of bulk dried foods like chickpeas, lentils, rice, and flour. But it turns out Amazon comes pretty close. These items are easy to ship, and many producers, some of them Costco suppliers, sell their products directly to customers online. I don’t have to leave the house, and I have more choices.
Costco has great prices, but it also has many temptations. For now, I am staying out. The few dollars I could save are not worth the drive, and the risk I will walk out of there with 5 lbs of kettle corn. Someday, after the pandemic is over, I might ask a friend to take me to Costco a few times a year. There are also prepaid cards that you don’t need to be a member to use. Instead of rewarding you for spending more as membership does, these cards limit your ability to spend.
So, before you commit to Costco for the sake of saving a few dollars on 8 lbs of peanut butter, consider if you can really walk out of there just with the items you normally buy, if those few dollars are worth the trip, and if you even can, or should, eat 8 lbs of peanut butter before it goes bad.